When Dean Evason Faced Sergei Fedorov
Once upon a time, Sergei Fedorov was the NHL MVP and Dean Evason was, well, not.
"A feisty young man," Bruce Boudreau said, describing his Caps assistant.
"A tough little center," Fedorov said of his former opponent.
See, before his coaching career, Evason played 13 seasons and 803 games with five NHL teams, encountering scores of greats along the way. And yes, one of them was Fedorov, a man about five years his junior against whom he often found himself skating.
I talked with Evason about going against Fedorov weeks ago, before the 39-year old Russian proved this week just how much game he still has. And I asked Evason to compare their styles
"The effortless and the effort," Evason said with a laugh. "I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to try to check him at different times, to try to keep him in check. He always says something about me sticking him or something; I just say that's all I could do. I mean, I couldn't catch him so I had to do something to try to keep up with him. In those days, it was hooking and holding and trying to do whatever you could to impede his progress as an effortless skater."
"Not that I noticed," Fedorov said, when I asked whether Evason had struggled to keep up. "It was not easy playing against him. He was hitting, too. He was a very, very good competitor....Obviously he played at the NHL level, so it's pretty much give and take, no big deal."
Evason recalled it somewhat differently. (And yeah, I should point out that he was probably being excessive deferential here. Evason is in the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, scored 139 NHL goals, played on national teams and was a WHL all-star, but he was certainly downplaying his own skill.)
"I think Feds was the best player in the world," he said. "Feds was the MVP of the league and was as good as it gets. It was certainly a challenge every time you were on the ice with him but also a privilege have played against him and watched him perform his skills on the ice. And certainly now you get even a greater appreciation for how he plays the game and how he conducts himself as a pro off the ice, there's no question."
As for his own career, Evason had perpetual groin problems, and said he operated more on determination than talent. The energy he expended, though, led to more pulls and tears and aches. He was listed at 5-feet-10-inches, never thought of himself as a very good skater, and repeatedly told me how fortunate he considers himself.
"It's amazing to have been able to have played in the NHL," he said. "That's all I dreamt about when I was a kid, was playing in the NHL. I try to reinforce that with our guys, how fortunate they are. You don't realize it when you're playing, because you're so focused and you're so tuned into your body and your mind getting ready for the next game, that you don't have time to kick back and just go, 'Hey, I am so lucky here.' . So I'm so lucky to have even played, but now, to coach, and like you said to coach some guys that I played with or against, it's special for me."
Still, I figured it must be a little strange to coach a guy you played against so many times, a guy you admit had more talent. So I asked Evason whether that ever got awkward.
"Watching a guy like Feds, having an opportunity to show him video clips, it's an honor," he said. "It's a little easier, or more comfortable, to go to an 18- or 19-year old kid and go, 'Hey, you've got to compete in this corner, you can't blow snow here, you've got to win that battle.' Whereas with Feds, you don't go to him and say that, you just say, 'I know you can win this battle.' You just show him, and he understands. You talk about it. Guys like that have been around for so long, they know how to play the game, obviously....There's not a whole lot of teaching that's done with fedorov
After his NHL days, Evason was a player-coach in Germany and coached in juniors before being hired as an assistant in Washington, the team that drafted him in 1982. That was before many of the current Caps were born, of course, but there are prominent exceptions. He faced Donald Brashear in the world championships. He was teammates with Michael Nylander. He assisted on the first NHL goal scored against Olaf Kolzig; before the goalie left D.C. this year, Evason fished out a VHS tape of that game and presented it to Olie.
He was hired to work under Glen Hanlon, and stayed to work under Boudreau, whom he had faced in the minors--"a tough guy to play against," Boudreau said. And now, with guys like Brashear and Fedorov still contributing to a legitimate Cup contender, I couldn't help but wonder whether the 44-year old Evason could give it a real go in practice, break out the effort one more time against the effortless elite like Fedorov.
"In my opinion, if he geared up, yeah, probably he could keep up with us," the Game 7 hero said.
So, ever tempted?
"Not at all," Evason demurred. "I don't want to hurt anybody."
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